I’ll just come right out and say it: Born in the Echoes by The Chemical Brothers is what Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories should have been. Both are celebrity-studded electronic music concept albums intended to boldly defy the movement’s status quo during its meteoric rise in popularity, but where the latter group attempted to do so by traveling back in time, the former accomplished it effortlessly by making music that would logically follow their creative momentum in the wake of their 2010 album Further.
Perhaps one of the most legitimate criticisms of contemporary EDM is that it consists of overly specific genres for each of which a single song or album would suffice – and really, by today’s standards, Born in the Echoes could be expanded to an entire genre in and of itself. Largely defined by the experimental use of antiquated analogue synthesizers, the sound achieved by Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons feels like the soundtrack to the reality of an alternate timeline that could have happened but didn’t. The effort’s beauty lies in its simplicity, with imperfections too perfect to have actually been accidents, making the experience of the music itself as cerebral as it is primal.
The first track on the album, “Sometimes I Feel So Deserted,” sets the tone for what will follow by reminding the listener what the group’s particular brand of big beat sounds like: A dissonant rhythm of clicks, chirps and hums that they might describe as techno if not for its puzzling warmth. The first release from the album was “Go,” whose synth pop flare compliments verses contributed by none other than hip-hop artist Q-Tip way better than I would have expected it to.
“Under Neon Lights” might capture the essence of the album better than any other track on it, which is probably why it was the second song that the duo released early. Its melodies follow a scale that sounds vaguely eastern and archaic before breaking down into a series of hard cuts that somehow encapsulate the human element in electronic music better than the most overproduced EDM track ever could.
“EML Ritual” and “I’ll See You There” mark a distinctly darker tangent, with the latter track introducing more instrumentals than any of those preceding it. The techno groove of “Just Bang” is more stylistically similar to a popular genre than any other track on the album, but considering that they chose a respectable one to emulate – and that “Another World” on their previous album was a future bass track before that’s what the style was even called – they certainly get a pass on not being 100% unique.
“Reflexion” is just as powerful as any other track on the album and the chilling “Taste of Honey” features a section of synthesizer sequencing that will make your hairs stand on end. Strangely, the title song may be the least memorable of all of them – and not because it’s bad by any means, but just because it’s not the best. “Radiate,” however, is fittingly the warmest track on the album, as some of its creative elements almost sound like they could find their way into an MGMT anthem.
The album ends with “Wide Open,” a track which brings the album full circle by featuring spirited vocals by ’90s alternative rock artist Beck. Between the high profile feature and the song’s infectious melody, it may be the most radio-friendly number on the album – which isn’t even a strike against it, as it’s just enough to round out the rest of the effort.
Born in the Echoes provides a clear example of what it looks like when an electronic music outfit holds true to their creative process in the face of an ever-changing industry landscape, and it sounds beautiful. In a perfect world, artists spanning the entire range of the electronic music spectrum would follow their example – not by imitating their sound, but by aspiring to match their artistic integrity in an increasingly homogenized pool of talent.
Contemporary dance music hasn't exactly lent itself to concept albums, which is why it's refreshing to see an outfit as illustrious as The Chemical Brothers return from a long silence with such a profound statement.